Skinned at last

Gene mutation resulting in skin cancer identified

Published: Wednesday 31 July 2002

The genome-wide research for genes involved in cancer has revealed that mutations in a single gene are to be blamed for the most malignant melanomas -- the deadliest form of skin cancer. The discovery was made by researchers involved in the cancer genome project of the Cambridge-based Sanger Institute. They discovered that the gene called braf, which controls the growth of cells, was mutated in 66 per cent of malignant melanomas and 10 per cent of colon cancer patients surveyed.

The mutation switches braf on permanently, so it continuously signals cells to grow. "We have already started searching for drugs that will switch it back off," says Mike Stratton, co-director of the project. Such drugs should stop the growth of malignant melanomas, which account for almost all deaths from skin tumours. "I hope that over the next five years the project would identify majority of genes involved in most common cancers," says Mike Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, which is funding the project.

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